ORLANDO — There’s a sense of glee and satisfaction that occurs when the Celtics move the ball the way they desire. They pride themselves in unselfishness, the ability to pass on a good shot for a better shot, regardless of who is on the floor.
So it was uncanny and bewildering Tuesday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, when the Boston offense became so stagnant and unimaginative during the worst possible moments.
Trying to lock down a win in regulation, the Celtics relied far too heavily on isolation ball, wasting the opportunity to make Miami’s defense work and eventually losing in overtime, 117-114.
The biggest culprit may have been Jayson Tatum, who dribbled down the clock in the final seconds of regulation while he was defended by Derrick Jones Jr. and shaded by Jimmy Butler, settling for a 27-footer that hit the front of the rim.
The Celtics only needed 1 point to go ahead and were in the foul bonus, so Tatum could have penetrated or drawn Butler and dished to Kemba Walker for an open shot. Instead, he gave Miami’s defense a break by taking a low-percentage shot.
Tatum was a near-40 percent shooter this season in shots from 25 to 29 feet, so in his eyes, it wasn’t low percentage, but considering the fact the game was tied and Tatum could have easily attacked the rim with his long strides, it was a disappointing result.
Even more disappointing was the fact that, during these stretches, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown were stuck watching from opposite corners. And on Tatum’s final 3-point attempt in regulation, Smart was open about 9 feet away from the basket.
What the stagnant offense did, and Walker can also be blamed, is it limited the Celtics' offensive options. A team with numerous scoring weapons only relied on only two down the stretch. Prior to Tatum’s buzzer-beating 3-point attempt, Walker dribbled repeatedly looking for open space against Miami’s Jae Crowder with 40 seconds left and the Celtics in control of a 2-point lead.
Walker is not playing with high confidence right now and he tried to dart toward the basket and executed a failed pump fake on Crowder, who blocked the shot. Another empty possession.
“There were several times we isolated at the slot and they did a great job of the corner defender and the wing defender who were both long in help and active in help,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They’ve been great at that. They have probably identified that at the start of the year.
"When they put that lineup [in] at the end of the game with Jones and Butler and Crowder, they’re just so long. You’re not gonna attack them one-on-one, let alone one-on-three. So we just have to do a better job of moving the ball and getting to where we want to go. We talked a lot about that today.”
Tatum was voted third-team All-NBA for the first time in his career on Wednesday, and his confidence on the floor is apparent and understandable. But it would also be in the team’s best interest for Tatum to be more of a facilitator in these late-game situations.
There were sequences when Tatum slowly dribbled the ball up the floor after rebounds and slowed down the offense, limiting the Celtics' options on that possession because the shot clock was running down. Stevens has constantly motioned throughout the playoffs for his team to push the ball after misses by frantically waving his arms.
The Celtics have to push the pace because it prevents Miami from getting into its set defense and it also allows the other Celtics without the ball to move and maneuver to make the offense tougher to defend. Brown is too talented of an offensive player to be relegated to corner 3-point shooter when Tatum or Walker pounds the ball on key possessions.
“We talked about that, I think just making adjustments,” Brown said. "Other games it’s been different. Other games it hasn’t been different. But just continue to make adjustments. I trust what Brad is going do. I trust what our guys are going do when they have the ball in their hands. We’ve just got to make the right decisions and play together as a team.
“I think that will happen. I think tomorrow will be a different game.”
Tatum said he liked both of shots he attempted in the waning moments of regulation and overtime. The first shot he shouldn’t have been so crazy about. The second, the dunk that was blocked by Bam Adebayo in the final seconds, was a good decision. In that situation, Tatum was able to beat Butler off the dribble and only a brilliant play by Adebayo prevented the game from going to double overtime.
“I mean, I like both shots that I got. I just missed one,” Tatum said. “They made a great play at the rim on the second one. I don’t know. Just take whatever the defense gives me, to be honest. We are going to watch film.
"There are a lot of things to talk about, to look at, to make adjustments for Game 2. That’s what the playoffs is: making adjustments, seeing what you did well, seeing what you can do better, move on.”